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Episode 11 – The Hellenistic Age Pt. 2 – The Early Stoa and the Cynics

Zeno of Citium
Zeno of Citium

This is the first of two episodes on Stoicism; in this episode, we learn about stoic metaphysics and logic. We learn how the Stoics would likely react if faced with a zombie apocalypse and how a shipwreck caused a guy named Zeno to start dabbling in philosophy. We also learn about Diogenes, a man who lived in a tub, urinated in public, barked at passerby, and somehow managed to be envied by Alexander the Great. Finally, we find out what John Locke, Charlie Pace and a wild boar from LOST have to do with Stoic philosophy. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

Philosophize This! If an asteroid hit the earth and knocked out all electricity for 30 days, what would you do with your time? Answer in the comments section below.

See the full transcript of this episode here.

 

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Episode 10 – The Hellenistic Age Pt. 1 – Epicurus

Epicurus
Epicurus

This week on the podcast, we shift our focus back to Western philosophy. On this episode, we learn about Epicureanism– one of four schools of thought that were prevalent during the Hellenistic Age, which will be our focus for the next few episodes. We find out why Diogenes liked Epicurus’ ideas so much that he permanently graffitied them onto the walls of an ancient Greek community center. We also learn why Epicurus thought that the most satisfying part of eating a half gallon of ice cream was the moment after the last spoonful, and why a jacket from Nordstrom really isn’t that much better than a jacket from Target. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

Stoicism is next. Philosophize This! Do you believe in fate?

See the full transcript of this episode here.

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Episode 9 – The Buddha

 

Likeness of Siddhartha Gautama inexplicably floating over a mountain...
Likeness of Siddhartha Gautama inexplicably floating over a mountain…

On this episode of the podcast, we learn about the life of Siddhartha Gautama and his Heisenberg-esque transformation into Buddha. We learn how Buddha left a lifestyle of being fed grapes and being fanned with palm leaves to pursue a life of celibacy, starvation, and sleep deprivation. We also learn about how Buddha reached enlightenment while sitting beneath a fruit tree a la Sir Isaac Newton, and about the four noble truths which he believed were the key to ending human suffering once and for all. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

Philosophize This! What is it about family that makes their relationship with you superior to those between you and your closest friends? Or are they your closest friends? Answer in the comments section below.

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Episode 8 – Confucianism

Confucius
Confucius

On this episode of the podcast, we learn about Confucius, a man whose ideas impacted China and eastern philosophy for thousands of years after his death. We find out how Confucius went from being the poor, friendless son of an ancient Chinese ‘Teen Mom” to becoming one of the most quoted people in history, as well as how he was reduced to selling his philosophy door-to-door after a brief career as a politician which ended in conspiracy and bribery. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

Philosophize This! If you could eliminate or create one thing that would make the world a much better place, what would it be? Answer in the comments below.

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Episode 7 – Daoism

Yin-Yang
Yin Yang

On this episode of the podcast, we learn about Daoism, the first of several Eastern philosophies we’ll be studying.

Daoism arose from a demand for creative and effective ways to govern the Chinese population when the Zhou Dynasty began to crumble. As the dynasty fell apart, the officials who had worked within the courts and government of the dynasty began to spread out and teach their own versions of how to most effectively govern people. Collectively, all of their ideas became known as the Hundred Schools of Thought, and Daoism was one of those hundred.

The most important text in Daoism is a book called the Daode Jing, which is attributed to a man named Laozi. There is no hard evidence that Laozi actually existed, but according to legend, he was one of the displaced Zhou Dynasty officials. After losing his job, he grew weary of civilization and decided to leave and live in isolation for the rest of his life. When he reached the final outpost, the guard asked him to write down all of his wisdom before he left so that it wouldn’t be lost. The short book he wrote is said to be what we now know as the Daode Jing. While this story is certainly possible, another possibility is that the Daode Jing was a collaborative effort by many people who simply attributed the finished product to Laozi.

There are many interpretations of what the “Dao” in Daoism actually means. For the most part, it’s universally agreed that the word “Dao” means “path” or “road”, and the differences in the interpretations come from the contexts in which the words “path” or “road” are taken.

The most common interpretation of the Dao is the path the universe naturally follows. The ancient people thought of this in regard to the relationship human beings have with nature. Because of our innate ability to reason, we are able to stray from the natural way all other animals interact with their environments.The Dao is the balanced path that humans should follow by living in harmony with nature and making decisions based on intuition.

Despite the many interpretations of the Dao, there are many commonalities in the ways people practice Daoism and the ideas they value. One of the most important concepts in Daoism is called Wu Wei, which means “non-action.” Daoists believe that you shouldn’t resist or strain against the balance and harmony of the Dao; to put it simply, you should just “go with the flow.” The flow of the universe!

Laozi
Laozi

Although Laozi was the founding father of Daoism, a philosopher named Zhuangzi is often credited as the man who turned Laozi’s philosophy into the version of Daoism that massively impacted Chinese culture and society for thousands of years. Zhuangzi lived during the Warring States period of China, which took place after the Zhou Dynasty had completely crumbled. By that time, Daoism had existed for several decades (since the dynasty had first begun to fall apart), but hadn’t yet been applied in the political realm since the Zhou Dynasty hadn’t completely collapsed yet. During the Warring States period, most philosophical texts aimed at trying to establish the most effective way of governing a state; contrarily, Zhuangzi’s book (which was self-titled) aimed at establishing the most effective way to be a happy individual.

Zhuangzi thought that human beings are better off when their lives are simplified and close to their natural state. In keeping with this, his book centered around following the Dao and practicing the art of Wu Wei. Unlike many Western philosophers, Zhuangzi didn’t believe that the pursuit of knowledge was a very beneficial use of time; he believed that it was pointless to pursue something that is unlimited, like knowledge, during a lifetime that is limited. This makes sense when you consider that a common theme of the Daode Jing and Zhuangzi’s book is the idea of shedding the traditions of mankind in favor of a life more aligned with nature.
Zhuangzi
Zhuangzi

Both Laozi and Zhuangzi applied the concept of Wu Wei to government, meaning they believed that the best government is one that doesn’t govern at all. Laozi thought that people work best when they aren’t governed; if there is no societal order to disrupt, disruptive behaviors cease to exist. Along the same lines, Zhuangzi thought that good order results spontaneously when things are left alone.

The most important symbol in Daoism is the Yin Yang, which represents a mysterious force of the universe having to do with the interdependence of opposites. The way of the Dao is to keep Yin and Yang balanced at all times, and the constant flux of the two forces represents the unity out of which all existence arises. This concept of Yin and Yang significantly predates Daoism and still pervades nearly every aspect of Chinese culture to this day.

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Episode 6 – Aristotle Part 2

 

The School of Athens by artist Raphael.
The School of Athens by artist Raphael.

On this episode of the podcast, we continue learning about Aristotle, a man who created the first system of biological classification, the first system of logic, and the first formal scientific method. We find out why Aristotle was anti-women and pro-slavery, and learn how Plato and Aristotle differed when it came to their definitions of “tree-e-ness.” We also learn why Aristotle would have been the world champion of Guess Who? and how to determine whether or not a carnivorous reptile with legs could possible be a snake.

Philosophize This! What is beauty? Answer below in the comments section!

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Episode 5 – Aristotle Part 1

Aristotle gestures towards the ground in the painting as an allusion to his empiricism.
Aristotle gestures towards the ground in the painting as an allusion to his empiricism.

This week we talk about various different applications of Aristotle’s ethics in modern life. We discuss making a “plan” for your life, the underlying similarities between all human desires and the best way to live life. Aristotle offers an excellent summation of his thoughts on living well when he says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

Philosophize This! If you knew you were going to die tonight and you had to write your own obituary, what would you write about yourself? What do your actions portray about your true values? How do you make the people around you feel?

 

See the full transcript of this episode here.

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Episode 4 – Plato

Plato points to the sky in this famous painting alluding to his rationalist philosophy.
Plato points to the sky in this famous painting alluding to his rationalist philosophy.

In this week’s episode, we learn about Plato’s “Symposium”, which you might think of as philosophy’s version of fan fiction. We also learn about Plato’s “Theory of Forms” and ask ourselves what makes a tree, well, a tree. This leads to discussion of Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave” and calls into question whether everything we see is merely a shadow of its true self. Finally, we learn about Plato’s views on society and government and why he thought democracy was one of the worst forms of government, second only to tyranny.

Philosophize This! Have you ever had an experience that changed your perception of something so that you felt you were seeing it as it actually is for the first time? Answer in the comments section below.

Make sure to download Philosophize This! on iTunes for the full story of Plato and his role in western philosophy.

See the full transcript of this episode here.

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Episode 3 – Socrates and the Sophists

Protagoras
Protagoras

Presocratic_graph

On this episode of the podcast, we discussed the Sophists and the man who inspired the term ‘Presocratic’, Socrates himself. We first discussed the ‘golden age’ of culture and philosophy that took place in Athens around 500 BC. During this time, language and critical thinking skills were highly desired, but rarely possessed–a demand which gave rise to a group called the Sophists. The Sophists were philosopher-teachers who charged Athenians an arm and a leg to learn how to win arguments in court, regardless of whether their argument had any validity or not. As we learned, the Sophists aren’t held in very high regard in philosophy circles, but they’re an important part of philosophy’s history nonetheless.

Next, we discussed the ways that some of the philosophers we’ve discussed previously are categorized. The first distinction made is between the monists and the pluralists. Monists believed that the universe is made up of one fundamental substance, and this category includes three schools of thought: the Milesian school, the Pythagorean school, and the Eleatic school. The pluralists believed that the universe is made up of several fundamental substances, and this category includes the Pluralist school, the Atomic Pluralist school, and the Sophists. Check out the graph above for more information on the philosophers that belonged to each school!

Socrates
Socrates

Finally, we got around to talking about a philosopher who learned from all the various schools of philosophy, and used that knowledge to create his own entirely new way of thinking–a way of thinking that made him one of the most important philosophical figures in history. His name was Socrates, and what he lacked in personal hygiene, he made up for in his ability to ask thought-provoking questions. Socrates is famously quoted as saying “the unexamined life is not worth living,” which reflected his belief that pursuing knowledge was the ultimate goal of life. Because Socrates didn’t write anything down, much of what we know about him comes from Plato’s “The Apology”, an account of the trial that ultimately led to Socrates being sentenced to death. One of the most important insights we gain from the story of Socrates’ trial is the fact that he was willing to die rather than sacrifice his beliefs.

Philosophize this! Is there anything you believe in so strongly you would be willing to die in support of it?

Make sure to download Philosophize This! on iTunes for the full story behind Socrates and the Sophists!

See the full transcript of this episode here.

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Episode 2 – Italian Pre-Socratic Philosophy

220px-Sanzio_01_Pythagoras.jpg
Pythagoras, probably ordering more bubble wrap jumpsuits for his cult followers…

On this episode of the podcast, we continued our discussion about pre-socratic western philosophy, this time focusing on the Italian style of thinking.

We first addressed the meaning of the word ‘philosophy’. ‘Phil’ and ‘soph’ are greek roots which mean ‘love’ and ‘wisdom’ respectively. So, ‘philosophy’ literally means ‘the love of wisdom’. This term was first coined by Pythagoras, the first of three Italian philosophers we discussed on this episode.

Most people have heard of the Pythagorean Theorem, which one might assume belongs to Pythagoras himself. However, as we learned, not much at all is known about Pythagoras. Because he had no writings and was the leader of what can only described as a cult dedicated to the study of math, music, and astronomy, it’s unclear which ideas came directly from Pythagoras and which came from his followers, the Pythagoreans.

The next philosopher we talked about was Parmenides, whose most notable contribution to philosophy was his use of deductive reasoning to arrive at conclusions. Parmenides’ ideas were a complete departure from the ideas of those who had come before him; rather than trying to explain how the world around him had come into existence, he concluded through deductive reasoning that it was impossible for it to have come into existence at all. Parmenides also believed that change was impossible and that our deceptive senses are the cause of our belief that anything begins, ends, or changes. 

Parmenides. Long before the advent of pupils...
Parmenides. Long before the advent of pupils…

The last philosopher we discussed in this episode was Empedocles, or as I like to think of him, Captain Planet. Empedocles believed that everything was made up of four elements — air, water, fire, and earth. He also believed that these elements were controlled by the competing forces of love and strife, and that these forces were responsible for the changing world we see.

Philosophize this! We learned many philosophers devoted their entire lives to explaining the world around them, solely because of their love of wisdom. What do you do without expectation of reward? Is there anything you love so much, you would do it for free indefinitely?

Make sure to download Philosophize This! on iTunes for the full story behind Pythagoras, Parmenides and Empedocles and the Italian style of thinking!

See the full transcript of this episode here.
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